NDI congratulates Linda Stern, our Director of Global Design, Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning (DMEL), who recently was awarded the 2023 Public Service Award from the Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association.
The award goes to an individual, “who has furthered knowledge from experimental research, usually by promoting or inducing research partnerships between academics and practitioners or contributing to the relationship between the findings of experimental research and public policy.” Her work as Director of Global Design, Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning at NDI and her leadership across many organizations make her an excellent fit for this award.
In her position managing the Global DMEL team, Linda leads the Institute’s efforts to build an evidence base for democracy assistance programs; and promote evidence-based learning at NDI. She joined the Institute in 2008 and has transformed how NDI designs, monitors and evaluates programs globally. Linda and her team work across NDI’s global portfolio to develop creative and innovative ways to measure the effectiveness and impact of NDI’s democracy programming. To further that goal, over the past decade Linda has established a number of academic-practitioner partnerships with leading scholars.
I began establishing pro bono partnerships with academic researchers from EGAP to ensure the objectivity of findings and to make sure NDI was adhering to the highest standards of ethical research. For example, ensuring our evaluative research has Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval and designs are pre-registered to avoid ‘cherry picking’ of findings. That means that NDI’s evaluative research is not only providing highly rigorous evidence for our programming, but also contributing to peer-reviewed academic journals and promoting learning across the broader democracy, human rights and governance sectors. ~Linda Stern
These partnerships began in 2008 with NDI’s first randomized controlled trial (RCT) of our “Let’s Talk” radio program in Southern Sudan, in partnership with Elizabeth Levy Paluck, from Princeton University and winner of the 2017 MacArthur Genius Award. This innovative field experiment demonstrated the power of coupling community discussions with radio dramatization to educate and engage citizens in the democratic reform process in a fragile state. From the success of that first impact evaluation in Southern Sudan, Linda has gone on to form academic-practitioner partnerships around a number of cutting edge themes in democracy and governance. These have included: a 2011 RCT on the impacts of technology on parliamentary responsiveness in Uganda (Macarten Humphries, Columbia University, Guy Grossman, University of Pennsylvania); a 2013 RCT on the impacts of Multi-Party Constituency Dialogues on Rural Citizens in Cambodia (Susan Hyde, UC Berkeley); a 2019 RCT on the impacts of Presidential Candidate Debates in Malawi and; a 2021 RCT of the impacts of Citizen Policy Debates on Political Polarization during the Honduras 2021 Presidential Elections (Eric Kramon, George Washington University). More recently, Linda established experimental research partnerships with Chipo Dendere (Wellesley College) and Lauren Young (UC Davis) on the impacts of peer-to-peer voter mobilization on youth voter registration in Zimbabwe in 2022; the impacts of inclusive political party outreach strategies in Ecuador with Matthias Poertner (London School of Economics) and Christopher Carter (University of Virginia) in 2022, and most recently testing the impacts of multiple online interventions on misinformation uptake and political polarization in Côte d’Ivoire with Claire Adida (UC San Diego) and Jessica Gottlieb (University of Houston).
Linda continues to play a unique role in collaborating with these scholars, empowering both the academic and democracy-building communities to be more effective in their work. She also works to capture lessons learned, connect teams facing similar issues in different contexts and design programming to ensure it has a measurable impact on democracy. Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning are critical components of NDI’s work, and the Global DMEL team allows us to build on our 40-year history and bring all of the experience and lessons learned to each program we implement.
Furthering this work on behalf of the Institute, Linda leads the Fundamental Freedoms Fund - Research, Evaluation & Learning (FFF-REL) initiative, a consortium of evaluators from seven leading democracy and human rights organizations sponsored by the U.S. State Department. In this position, she works to support the effectiveness of the FFF, which promotes the freedoms of association, assembly, expression and religion in countries that routinely and systematically infringe on those freedoms. In 2022, the FFF-REL initiative resulted in the State Department's support for a more purposeful and inclusive partnership between the Democratic Erosion Consortium and NDI’s Global DMEL team to strengthen the network of practitioners, academics and policymakers in the global north and global south by marshaling and generating evidence for programming in the DRG sector.
Linda also is on the Board of Directors for Evidence in Governance & Politics (EGAP), a cross-disciplinary network united by a focus on research and dedicated to evidence on topics of governance, politics and institutions. As one of the first practitioner organizations to partner with EGAP on randomized control trials in its overseas programs, NDI has been able to collaborate with EGAP to foster partnerships between researchers and practitioners, to create effective tools and methods for rigorous analysis, and to provide comprehensive training for both researchers and practitioners, particularly focusing on regions in the Global South.
NDI is very proud of the work that Linda does and applauds APSA’s recognition of her incredible contributions. We are excited to see her continue to innovate and push evidence-based programming in the service of our collective goal of a more democratic and prosperous world.
Author: Scott Franklin, Program Associate on the Government Relations and Communication team
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.